Back in 2017, Oregon lawmakers approved a permitting process to bring more structure to Oregonians’ consumption of deer and elk killed in vehicle collisions.
Oregon Fish & Wildlife officials patterned the new approach on existing programs in other states. (At the time, they noted, Pennsylvania had 126,000 animal-vehicle collisions a year.)
Senate Bill 372 required Oregonians who want to eat roadkill to obtain permits—and to turn in the antlers of the dead animals to the state, “which is important to reduce the temptation to strike a deer or elk for its antlers,” ODFW officials testified at the time.
The bill also required annual reports. In the current legislative session, ODFW submitted its latest numbers, current through mid-December. Here’s what those numbers show:
ODOT issued 5,488 “roadkill salvage” permits between January 2019 and November 2022. The permits are highly seasonal, corresponding to the deer breeding season, late October through early December, during which animals move around more.
There was a noticeable drop-off in permits, however, in the autumns of both 2021 and 2022 (ODFW prepared its report without full-month figures in December 2022, but the numbers were lagging significantly).
Brian Wolfer, the acting administrator of ODFW’s wildlife division, says he and his colleagues are puzzled by the declines in the past two years. “There are a few possibilities, but none of them completely explain it,” Wolfer says.
He notes that ODFW offices were closed during parts of the pandemic and the agency waived the requirement that antlerless animals be checked in.
“It’s also possible that people are getting better at determining whether or not something is fit to eat before they pick it up,” Wolfer says. “So it could be an experience-based thing—that what looks good in those colder months in November and December may actually be a couple of days old. It’s a little harder to tell at first glance in colder weather than it is when it’s warm.”